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International Relations and Modern Technology

Wednesday, October 16, 2002


In his book The Third Wave, Alvin Toffer arbitrarily divides recent time into three periods:


· I. Agrarian Age ca 8000 BC - 1700 AD

· II. Industrial Revolution 1700 - 1955

· III. Technologicval Age 1955 - Present

During the Agrarian Age, man stayed and worked near home, did little traveling, measured time by the sun, and had little distant communication.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, man responded by becoming subservient to routine: 8-5 workdays, alarm clocks, working outside the home, early devices for more distant communication, and travel, sometimes for relatively long distances.

Presently, during the Technological era (arbitrarily defined as the beginning of jet travel) and with increasingly sophisticated means of travel and communication, man finds him/herself less constrained by regular work hours and workplaces. Much work can be performed out of the home (if one wishes) and at any time of the day or night. Travel is rapid and communication almost instantaneous.

The relative durations of these three periods:

· Nearly 10,000 years

· 205 years

· 50+ years

give us reason to pause and reflect upon the incredible rapidity with which change is taking place, and makes one wonder how fast and in what manner new developments will be thrust upon us in the near future.

Using various modalities such as video conferencing, telephone communications, e-mails, and interactive programming, the need for large scientific congresses and seminars has been questioned. Considerable economic savings can be had by avoiding travel expenses, costs of convention housing and exhibition facilities, and staff planning expenses. Virtual meetings can be conducted without the need for one to leave home or office. What a remarkable possibility compared with only a few decades ago!

What's wrong with this picture?

As economical and efficient as this high-tech scenario is painted, certain indipensible elements are missing --- the enormous and lasting value of human interchange; the handshake; the eye to eye contact; the opportunity for contemporaneous discussion and debate; the opportunity to make lasting friendships based on close professional and personal relationships; and the ability to collaborate freely with colleagues for the purpose of jointly developing new ideas, techniques, and novel approaches to problems because of the environment made possible only by intimate discussion and contact, and impossible by our wonderful, highly efficient modern technology that is so marvelous and yet so cold, impersonal and unfeeling.

This brings to mind the prescient observation of a philosopher of more than four centuries ago:

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the

continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by

the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were,

as well as if a Mannor of thy friends, or of thine owne were;

Any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in

Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the

bell tolls, it tolls for thee. 

John Donne Meditations XVII, 1624


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